Sour, earthy, funky, floral, herbal. Today's innovative American craft brewers are pushing the boundaries of what beer usually tastes like by experimenting with pucker-inducing wild yeasts and locally sourced ingredients. Here, a guide to the best new beers, plus great gastropubs and beer-spiked food.
In this Article
American Craft Beers: 5 Beer Styles
© Hector Sanchez
1. Southern Way
Beer is challenging bourbon as a signature drink in the American South. Sean Lilly Wilson of Fullsteam brewery in Durham, North Carolina, uses regional ingredients like sweet potatoes and grits. His robust Hogwash, a hickory-smoked porter, is excellent with vinegary pulled pork.
2. Sour Ales
Belgians have been making tart, dry beers like gueuze for centuries; US brewers are now playing with wild yeast strains and lactic acids to produce funky, earthy bottles like New Belgium's La Folie.© Jesse Friedman
3. Farm-to Barrel
Liquid locavorism: Damian Fagan of San Francisco's Almanac Beer Co. buys local fruit for seasonal brews like Almanac Summer 2010, made with four kinds of Sonoma blackberries.
4. Black IPA
An alluring new style that mixes the intense hop hit of an India Pale Ale with the toasty malt-rich taste (and color) of a Guinness. Try Deschutes's Hop in the Dark.
5. Farmhouse Ale
Also called a saison, this light ale was originally brewed from leftover grains for field workers in the French-speaking parts of Belgium. US brewers have fallen in love with the adaptable style, adding everything from lavender to black pepper.
American Craft Beers: Serious Drinking Food
Courtesy of Grain & Gristle
Grain & Gristle; Portland, OR Beers are hyper-seasonal and food is super-hearty, from the pork cracklings to the house-made pastrami.
The Farmers' Cabinet, Philadelphia Reminiscent of a Victorian saloon, this lounge serves offbeat European beers and goat leg for two. It's building a nanobrewery, too.
Cooking with Beer
© Derek Hatfield
Dark stouts and rich desserts are a classic pairing; Chicago's Truffle Truffle combines them. The company's newest creation: a chocolate-covered, beer-infused marshmallow topped with beer-and-pretzel brittle. $10 for four; truffletruffle.com.
American Craft Beers: Drinking in Style
Great Beer Glasses
© Hector Sanchez
For a BBQ It looks like ordinary tailgate-ready plastic, but this "Beer Cup" is actually made of thin glass. $20; abchome.com.
Nature-Inspired A bug in your beer is a bad thing, but Ted Muehling's butterfly tumbler for Lobmeyr is just the opposite. $570; tableartonline.com.
Aroma Amplifier Dansk's tulip-shaped glass concentrates a beer's scent, so it's good for aromatic pours like Belgian tripels. $15; dansk.com.
Ripple Effect The ridges on this "Senbiki" glass make it more stylish than the average pub pint; it's a chic all-purpose glass. $23; dandelionsf.com.
Hand-Cut Crystal Ted Muehling makes this etched, mouth-blown crystal glass with a delicate fluted edge. $430; cooperhewittshop.org.
Video: Beer Glasses and Pouring Techniques
Beer Bottle Openers
Beer Gnome An opener is hidden in the base of the "Little Helper." $25; sfmoma.org.Cast-Iron Opener Made of super-strong Japanese metal. $32; saranyc.com.Pop the Trunk The opener is in the elephant's mouth. $25; velocityartanddesign.com.
Photos © Hector Sanchez.
American Craft Beers: Top Destinations
For his forthcoming book, The Great American Ale Trail, Christian DeBenedetti tasted his way around the USA. Here, his top beer destinations.© Jamie Orillion
The Birch, a new chartreuse-painted beer hall in Norfolk, has a chalkboard menu focused on super-rare Belgiansall available to go in growlers.
American Craft Beers: Lighter Beers for Easy Drinking
Craft beer importer Dan Shelton makes a case for lower-alcohol brews.
My brother Will and I are regulars at the Moan and Dove in Amherst, Massachusetts, and our loyalty has earned us a great perk: lots of free pours. But too many free pours can be a problem when the choice is limited to typical beer-geek fare: Imperial stouts or double IPAs, hovering between 8 and 15 percent alcohol. More than a few nights at the Moan have ended with Will deciding to sleep in his car rather than drive home.
One such night inspired Will, a brewer himself, to make a pale, dry beer with 4.5 percent alcohol. He called it, provocatively, Beer of the Gods, and gave some to the Moan as an alternative to its "big" beers.
Then something happened: Customers loved the beer, too. It was delicious on its own or with food, unlike "extreme" beers, which often short-circuit the palate with alcohol and sweetness. But the beer snobs detested it. Upon learning the alcohol level was less than 10 percent, many of them wouldn't even taste it.
Here's what the geeks don't know: Their own beer gods, like Russian River Brewing Co.'s Vinnie Cilurzo (who created the first double IPA), actually drink low-alcohol brews at home and at the pub. So I make this plea: Ignore the geeks and try a low-alcohol beer.
The Sheltons import more than 300 beers from around the world. Find out more at sheltonbrothers.com.
Lighter Beer Picks
Beer of the Gods High & Mighty's German-style ale, by Will Shelton, is flavorful and has just 4.5 percent alcohol.Saison de la Senne A bitter, 4.3-percent-alcohol farmhouse ale from Belgium's Brasserie de la Senne.Session Ale & Pils Notch Session (named after Britain's low-alcohol "session" beers) makes a hoppy ale and a Czech-style pilsner.
Photos (l to r) courtesy of: High & Mighty Beer Co.; Shelton Brothers; Notch Brewing
American Craft Beers: Brew Speak
- Gypsy BrewersTiny producers often can't afford their own equipment, so they roam around, renting facilities from friends. Look for the Pretty Things or Mikkeller labels.
- Bed and BeerA beer-centric take on the B&B; rooms at Rogue's farm in Independence, Oregon, have views of its hop fields.
- NanobreweryGrassroots operations like Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend, Vermont, might produce only a few barrels per batch.
- Collaboration BeerBeers co-created by pros from two or more breweries are often strikingly original. One to try: Marrón Acidifié, co-produced by Tampa's Cigar City and Orange County's The Bruery, is a dark, sour ale aged for over a year in wood barrels.
American Craft Beers: Homebrew How-To
Courtesy of Rodale
William Bostwick and Jessi Rymill, authors of the easy-to-follow Beer Craft, demystify the esoteric process of homebrewing for DIY-ers who want to do things like sparge their own wort. Bonus: interviews with top US beermakers on complex styles and tips on label design.